An inclusive & pragmatic approach to accessibility

Paul Boag

Yesterday I read an excellent blog entry on the subject of accessibility. Although much of it is not appropriate for this blog I thought I would share with you one of two extracts that underline by approach to accessibility.

Guidelines are… well guidelines really

It is funny how we all like to know where they stand. Everything has to be black or white, right or wrong, accessible or not. The vast majority of the invitations to tender we receive ask for their web site to conform to WAI guidelines. They add it to the brief so they can check the accessibility box without really understanding what they are asking for. Unfortunately, the world does not work like that. The blog entry I read summed it up perfectly:

For me accessibility is not about laws or guidelines. The guidelines are great as a help, but they are a means, not an end… We also need to remember that 100 percent accessibility is out of reach. We should strive to go as far as possible, but there must be a measure of realism and pragmatism, too.

The type of accessibility solution we provide should not be based on a generalised set of guidelines but on meeting the needs of the users of a particular site.

More than the disabled

I am disturbed that accessibility has become all about just meeting the needs of the disabled and in many case just about meeting the needs of visually impaired users. Perhaps that is because there are numerous pressure groups like the RNIB campaigning for the needs of visually impaired people but nobody campaigns for the person who cannot afford the latest PC or a broadband internet connection.

Again, the Autistic Cuckoo summed it up perfectly:

Accessibility means that you don’t put up barriers, not for people and not for computer programs. An accessible web page, with my definition, makes the information accessible for all visitors, regardless of disabilities or which user agent they use.

Degrade nicely

When did we decide that our sites should look identical in all browsers and that we therefore had to design to the lowest common denominator? Yes, our sites should work in all browsers but that does not mean those people using the latest browser should miss out on the bells and whistles because the site has to also work in Netscape 4.7. Rather, a site should degrade nicely giving those with the latest browsers the latest features while still allowing those with older browser to use the site in the best way their browser can comfortable support.

Thus, accessibility according to Tommy Olsson is about allowing access to the information to everyone. It does not mean that the page needs to look the same in all browsers – that is impossible anyway. It doesn’t even have to look identical in all modern browsers, although it is often desirable to make it do so.